Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Chicken with Honey Mustard Plus Sauce

Ever had one of those days that starts with a firm plan and a to-do list that is set in concrete__until you open your eyes and put your feet on the floor?  Then every thing you had so carefully orchestrated falls apart and the day is nothing but a system of punts.  Oh yes, that was my day today.

I had about 10 places I needed to go today before our weekend trip to Atlanta.  Unfortunately The Hub decided we needed to have the car carpet shampooed before said trip.  So instead of getting everything finished like I wanted to, I was at the car detail place at 8 a.m.  My car was held hostage there until nearly 5 this afternoon.  Maybe y'all are craftier than I am but I could not figure any way to get from here to there sans car.   I was stuck at home, carless with errands I now get to do tomorrow.

What to do, what to do?  I looked around and realized I had about 5 pounds of okra that needed to be preserved somehow.  I also had 4 pounds of green pears that could either be left to ripen for eating or cooked into some delicious preserves.  

Since I was stuck at home anyway, the day turned into a processing and preparing day. The  pears have been cooked  and are waiting one more step tomorrow before canning.  3 bags of okra were tossed with cornmeal, spread on baking sheets and par-cooked.  They now swim with the fishes, and pork chops and beef tenderloins and squash packages in the freezer.  That left about 2 pounds for making pickled okra, with enough left for a side dish to go with supper.

By the time I had picked up my car and finished the final 2 jars of okra it was time to think about cooking.  I had a package of boneless chicken breasts, about a pound of okra and a bag of broccoli slaw.  It was pretty meager pickings to make a tasty meal. Since I was frying the okra, I wanted the chicken to be fairly simple.  

I looked online and found a recipe for honey mustard chicken.  It was simple sauteed chicken breasts with a sauce made of honey and 2 types of mustard,  to be brushed on after cooking.  I thought it might make a decent base for a finishing sauce.

                     Chicken Somewhat Like the Honey Mustard Recipe I Found Earlier

4 chicken breast halves, patted dry
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or any neutral oil)
1/2 cup dry white wine

Heat a dry saute' pan to very warm then add your oil.  When the oil is hot place the four chicken breasts in the pan and cook about 5 minutes on medium high.  Turn the breasts and lightly salt each one.  Cook for 3 minutes, then begin basting with the sauce.  After the 2nd baste pour about 1/2 cup of a dry white wine in the bottom of the pan to keep the sugar in the honey from burning. Turn the heat down to medium and continue basting and cooking for another 4 or 5 minutes minutes.  Flip them again and baste the other side a couple of times and then serve spooning a bit of the sauce on top of  each of the chicken breasts

Honey Mustard Plus Sauce

1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup agave (because I only had 1/4 cup honey)
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/4 cup coarse grained brown mustard
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
dash of salt
3 turns of freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley or 2 tablespoons fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried savory leaves ( I meant to use thyme but had none. The savory was a delicious punt.)

Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl until blended.

This was a huge hit at the supper table tonight.  Everyone really did like it and each person asked to have it again.  I guess that is the biggest compliment you can get from something thrown together at the last minute.  It would be fantastic served over Jasmine rice with the sauce over it, seeping into the rice grains.  I will make a mental note to serve it that way next time.  I am delighted I was out of thyme because the savory/ parsley combination was a nice light flavor that complimented the mustards without over powering it.  It probably would have been better if I had the full 1/2 cup of honey since agave does not have a very distinct flavor, but it was delicious as it was.

I honestly can't think of anything I would do differently except to double the recipe and make additional chicken breasts.  It would be outstanding sliced cold on top of a green salad  with some sliced avocado. I would be tempted to add some of the sauce to additional olive oil and use it to dress the salad.

If you are in a chicken rut, try this.  You might like it.  You might even be like we were and like it__alot!

Monday, August 26, 2013

With A Cherry On Top

Sometimes I wish I were not such a nerd and didn't feel the need to research things we eat.  It seems every time I do I have to cross another item we used to enjoy off the list.  This time I HAD to read about the process of  making Maraschino cherries.  Dang!  Another food item gone!  Spoiler:  They chemically bleach all the color out of cherries, shoot them with red dye number 5 for that uniform hot pink cherry color, then send them swimming in a dye infused solution of sugar, high fructose corn syrup (GMO)  and water with several preservatives thrown in for good measure.  Ick!

Now don't get me wrong. It's not like we sit around throwing down cherries right and left, but some things like a sundae or certain beverages absolutely require a cherry on top.  Since I had a boatload of Bing cherries in the refrigerator I started looking for a way to make some suitable cherry topper for desserts.  It was easier than I thought.  I found a blog called The Garden of Eating and low and behold, there was a recipe for home canned cherries.

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup cherry juice ( can substitute concord grape or black cherry)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 cups pitted fresh bing cherries

Bring the sugar water and cherry juice to a boil and stir until all the sugar is liquified.  Reduce heat to low and add the lemon juice, extract and cherries.  Cook for about 5 minutes for the cherries to absorb all the flavors.  Put the hot cherries in sterile canning jars.  Pour the juice over leaving 1/4 inch of head space.  Put canning lids on and process in a  water bath for 10 minutes.

Do these look and taste just like the traditional maraschino cherries?  Not exactly but they are a perfectly acceptable alternative and don't have a boatload of chemicals in them.

I have also read of another way to make a spirited version of these  You simply pour Maraschino Liqueur over stemmed cherries and let them sit for a couple of weeks for their "flavor" to develop. Since I live in Alabama and the state mandates what liqueurs are available for purchase, I cannot find it but I  thought I might scout for it in Florida when I am on vacation.  Will amend this post if I find some and it works.

p.s.  If you intend to make anything with fresh cherries, invest in a cherry pitter and work over the sink! When I had finished pitting all of them it looked like I needed to call Dexter to come analyze a crime scene.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Easy Peasy Shortbread

Ever wanted something sweet, but not too sweet.  Then you realize you really want something cookie-like but at the very same moment realize you are totally out of eggs.  That happened to me recently so I started looking through my cookie file.  Eureka!  Shortbread was just what I needed to make.  It requires no eggs, no mixer, no cookie cutters, it's a one bowl operation and takes about 35 minutes from start to finish.

                                                                 Easy Shortbread

1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon reserved

In a medium mixing bowl mix all the ingredients until well blended.  The absolute best way to mix this is to wash your hands well, dry them and then mix with the tools God gave you until it is smooth. If is seems too dry and crumbly add a few drops of milk and continue mixing until smooth.  On an ungreased baking pan pat it into about an 8 inch circle that is about 1/2 inch thick.  With a fork, lightly prick the surface of the shortbread then cut into 8 or 10 pie shaped pieces, but DO NOT separate the slices from the circle. Bake it at 350 for about 25 -30 minutes ( Ovens vary.  You want it completely baked, but not browned)  Remove from the oven and immediately cut the pieces again, following the lines of the previous cut. Sprinkle lightly with the reserved sugar. Remove the pieces from the pan  and place on a cooling rack. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea.

This is a very simple but tasty treat when you are low on ingredients and time, but really do want a little something sweet until you can get to the grocery store and buy something truly decadent!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Saving Strawberries

You know how you are about to make a salad for supper and you look in the crisper to get the lettuce and cucumbers and notice an entire carton of strawberries shoved in the back of the drawer?  Then you take them out and see you have to use them right now or toss the entire thing?  (Please tell me I am not the only one who occasionally overlooks fruit.)  You start thinking about how you can incorporate it into the night time meal, but honestly a bowl of strawberries does not sound good with grilled scamp, a baked potato and salad.  Keep? Toss? Keep? Toss?

Right as I was about to throw it away I remembered I had paid 2 bucks for it.  Trashing it would be akin to taking those 2 dollars and flushing them down the toilet, so I started thinking and flipping through my favorite food sites to find a quick recipe for strawberry cake.  Somehow or another during the search a recipe for Strawberry Balsamic Jam popped up. 

 Hmmmmm.  It sounded good, but I did not want to run to the store and buy additional strawberries and I surely did not want to be stuck canning all night.  Instead I played around with the ingredients and the amounts to get a single small jar of what I guess is more like a conserve than a true jam.

                                           Strawberry Balsamic Conserve/Jam

1 pound very ripe strawberries, washed and hulled
3 tablespoons sugar ( I used sucanat  just to see if it would work)
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 

Put all in a small sauce pan and cook over medium low heat until the berries are very soft.  Mash the fruit using a potato masher (a fork would work) and cook until the mixture is very thick, watching to make sure it does not caramelize. (30 minutes maybe)  Let cool then place in a container in the refrigerator.  

Though I don't dislike jams and jellies, I never actively look for them.  I am not one of those people who want jelly on my toast or biscuits...until this!  I think my indifference has been the lack of compound flavors in the jams and jellies I had had in the past.  I have eaten balsamic over strawberries on ice cream and thought it was delicious. ( Thanks, Cindy!)  That same kick of flavor was what made this jam taste just fantastic.  I have eaten it on toast, a plain scone and on goat cheese spread on a cracker ( Oh my goodness, that was the bomb)

Deliciousness and strawberries saved!   It extended the life of the berries by about 3 weeks and tasted good.  That is what I call a win/win situation.  Next on my list, peach black pepper jam?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Reason To Always Keep Shallots: Steak And Stuff!

Yesterday was one of those horrible, no good, very bad days.  It was not a day you could blame on any one thing either.  It was just a combination of irritants that create those days you just wish would end, because you know tomorrow will be better.

Sometimes my solution to the blues, is to cook something delicious.  When I am upset I bake, when I am sad I bake, but when I am just generally pissed with the world, I dig a little deeper and try to make something really delicious.  Plus I am currently eating no sugar ( Think no chocolate might be contributing to my black mood?) so baking was out of the question anyway.

There has been a recipe floating around Pinterest that is all about making steakhouse steaks.  Thanks to an incredible weekend sale at The Pig, I had 4 steaks in the fridge, plus I already had shallots and garlic in a basket and a carton of white mushrooms.  The only thing I did not have was Marsala.  I am not a very big fan of cooking wines, and since I almost always have a bit of leftover wine, there is just no point in buying it.

There were no amounts or measurements given so I was careful to measure for it to be accurate.  It was really more of a how to than a recipe.  This is a reformed recipe, using the original ingredients  except I added the butter because the sauce tasted flat plus  I had  tablespoon of leftover drawn butter. ( Thanks to The Hub's recent lobstering outing) 

                                                              Steakhouse Type Steak 

3 tablespoons ground beef* (If cooking steak in the skillet omit)
3 shallots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup Marsala (any dry red wine works)
salt to taste
cracked black pepper to taste
4 steaks, seasoned as usual for you ( I use Angelo's Steak Seasoning * 'cause it is the bomb)

The instructions call for pan cooking the steaks, so if you are inclined to do that omit the ground beef.  If you are going to cook the steak in the pan do it now. ( It will require a couple of additional tablespoons of olive oil)  When you reach your level of doneness remove the steaks from the pan and put then somewhere warm.

 I had purchased a whole beef tenderloin and the butcher had not only sliced and trimmed it, but had ground all the trimmings minus the silver skin.  Since we prefer grilled steak, I put 3 tablespoons of the trimmings in the pan and cooked it well. while the steaks grilled.  Using a slotted spoon remove the ground beef , leaving all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  ( Shelby, the dog, was most happy to have a treat on top of her dry food)

I had 3 shallots and used all of them, peeled and sliced thinly.  The garlic cloves were medium size.  If I had larger cloves I would  use only 3.   Add the olive oil to the pan and heat to a medium high heat.  Toss the shallots in and let them wilt, then add the garlic, stirring to keep the garlic from browning.  Remove from the heat and stir in the mushrooms.  Move them around to coat with the oil then return to heat for about 2 minutes, stirring continually.  Add the wine and stir through the vegetables, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the beef flavors there.  Reduce the liquid by half, stir in the butter, add salt and pepper to taste and serve on top of each steak.

This was an instant mood lifter!  It was delicious and a snap to make.  It amped up the flavor of the steak and even provided some additional vegetables.  There was not a morsel left, though Shelby kept a constant vigil just in case!

Next time I make this I might experiment with some fresh herbs.  I think a little marjoram or thyme  added when the wine goes in might be very tasty.  I have parsley in the yard and should have minced some of that also but I just didn't think of it in time. Next time 4 shallots will be used.  They taste  great and really compliment the garlic.

And this is why you should always have shallots on hand.  You never know when you might have to cook your way out of the doldrums!

* I am going to the beach in a week and will be restocking my Angelo's stash.  Anyone else need any?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Inventou O Prato de Frango ( Brazilian Chicken)

The catchy title of this chicken dish is actually a rough translation from English to Portuguese for the phrase "Totally Made Up Chicken Dish"  I can't verify the accuracy of the translation since I don't speak a lick of Portuguese, but it seemed like I needed to "fancy it up" by using a romance language instead of my own.  If it's not correct take it up with BabelFish.  I was completely at their mercy.

I am always looking for something we have never eaten before to try for meals.  We get bored eating the same food over and over.  A few weeks ago when I was cleaning my cookbook shelf, I happened on an old folder stuffed with recipes I had cut from magazines.  To anyone younger who might be reading this, there was a time, before Pinterest, when we looked through magazines for trendy, new food inspiration.  Once we found something that caught our eye, we would physically cut if from the page and either stick it in a folder, or paste it to a 3x5 card  and keep it alphabetically in a nice little card box. ( Seems insane or like something reminiscent of the dinosaur era, right?)  Of course, once I found the folder, it was a message from above to quit dusting and shuffle through the bits and pieces of magazine pages.

When I looked through it, I wondered what had possessed me to cut some of them out in the first place. Liver spaghetti? I hate liver so why would I bother with that?  Congealed salads?  Ditto with the Jello aversion!   I  also found quite a few recipes that would be considered ancient now, since some of the ingredients are no longer made. ( Anyone remember Whip & Chill)   Some reflected pop culture ( The Saturday Night Fever Dinner Party ) and some were just timeless recipes.

I found a recipe for a Brazilian pork dish  and made it for supper that night. It  met with lukewarm results then, but  the leftovers were stellar when we ate them for lunch a few days later.  I figured the  rub used to flavor the pork was what made it delicious, so I took the spice list and tweaked it a little to make my personal Brazilian* blend.

Brazilian Seasoning Blend

2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Put all the ingredient in a bowl and whisk to blend well.  Store tightly covered. ( I used an empty washed and well dried spice container and wrote Brazil on the cap but I am pretty sure it would live happily in any covered jar)

                          Completely and Totally Made Up On The Fly Chicken Recipe

4 boneless chicken breast halves
1 small onion, sliced in rings
1 clove garlic, minced
3 teaspoons Brazilian seasoning
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup dry white wine ( add an additional 1/2 cup if desired)

Season the chicken breasts lightly with the seasoning mix and let rest for about 5 minutes.  Add the oil to a pan and heat till hot.  Lightly brown the chicken on both sides then remove from the pan.  Add the onions and wilt, then add the garlic.  Put the chicken back in the pan on tops of the vegetables and add the white wine.  Sprinkle the remaining seasoning over the chicken breasts.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover the pan and let simmer until the wine is reduced by half.  To serve put 1/4of the onion garlic mixture on the bottom of the plate and top with the chicken.  Drizzle the top of each piece with the liquid remaining in the pan.

This was a very tasty and very easy dish.  I served it with some funky potatoes I had gotten in my co-op box and a side salad.  Next time I will serve it on a bed of rice and add an additional 1/2 cup of wine when cooking so it will have a tad more sauce.   This seasoning blend is so good, it could possibly become my second most used blend.  Don't worry Cavander's, you will always be my first love.

*This may or may not actually be a Brazilian spice combination.  I am only calling it Brazilian because the recipe I found did.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Tuna Salad? Surely You Jest? Yes!!!

When we were kids my childhood best friend and I both loved to cook.  Some days instead of playing outside we would "play" in the kitchen.  Both of our mothers let us use the kitchen freely with the same rules at each house.  Whatever we created had to be to eaten ( either by us or shared with the family)  and whatever we messed up had to be completely cleaned.  It was a perfect playground for us to cook up anything and everything we could dream of making.

We were only 9 or 10 but were most impressed with party food and drinks. We cooked all kinds of food and we cooked often, but some of our more notable dishes were child appropriate imitations of adult favorites. Mock pink champagne?  We made it and drank it out of sherbet bowls. ( It was the closest thing to a champagne flute we could find.)  Mock chocolate mousse?  Horrible, but we ate it from china cups with demitasse spoons.  Fake pate' made from potatoes and some other vegetable I can't remember?  Made and served on top of the uber gourmet Nabisco saltines.  As I recall other than making us feel pseudo-sophisticated they were all failures. After that I pretty much stayed away from the fake stuff  until a few weeks ago when I began dabbling in alternate ingredients to create everyday foods.

I am not sure where I first saw switching chick peas for tuna in tuna salad, most likely some vegan site, but the recipe they used was nowhere near my traditional tuna experience.  I am sure someone somewhere would love a curry, diced red pepper, and smoked coconut flake type of "tuna" salad, but it did not appeal to me in the least.  Instead I tinkered with it for a more typical take on tuna and came up with this.

                                                                       Tunaless Salad

1 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight, cooked and drained ( or 1 can well drained)
3-4 ribs of celery, diced
3 scallions, sliced
2 teaspoons brown grained mustard
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped pickles ( sweet or dill) optional
1 chopped hard boiled egg, optional

Serves 3-4

Make sure the chickpeas are well cooked.  You want them very soft but not mushy.  Drain them well and using a fork mash them until they are chunky.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix until blended but do not over mix or complete mush will happen.  This can be eaten immediately but is much better if it can hang around in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.  I tried it first as a sandwich and have to admit it really does not work eaten that way.  But on some lettuce or stuffed in a tomato it becomes a pretty tasty lunch.  I would say I like it better than tuna salad because it does not have the cat food smell, but I like it slightly less than chicken salad.

Though the egg is optional and I have tried it both with and without, the egg lends a certain body to the mix and richness to the flavor.  The celery provides a needed bit of crunch and the brown mustard and the lemon juice add the tartness. I am a pickle person and have tried it using both dills and sweet pickles.  I liked both of them and could only say let your personal taste guide you. The mayonnaise is what binds it together and if you are a mayonnaise hater, this is probably not the dish for you.

First black bean brownies then adzuki bean burgers now chick pea "tuna"!  I am developing a new appreciation for the lowly bean.  Who said you can't teach an old dog a new trick?